Ja 524 Saṅkhapālajātaka
The Story about (the King of the Nāgas) Saṅkhapāla (40s)
In the present some lay people keep the Uposatha precepts. The Buddha tells a story of a king who was reborn as king of the Nāgas, but wearying of the life, wished to be reborn amongst men. In pursuit of that he kept the Uposatha precepts, even when badly treated by others. His rescuer followed his example.
The Bodhisatta = the king of the Nāgas, Saṅkhapāla (Saṅkhapālanāgarājā),
Sāriputta = (the landlord) Aḷāra,
Ānanda = the king of Benares (Bārāṇasirājā),
Kassapa = the father, the ascetic (pitā tāpaso).
Past Compare: Cp 20 Saṅkhapālacariyā.
Keywords: Virtue, Renunciation, Vows, Devas.
“Of comely presence.” This was a story told by the Teacher, while dwelling at Jetavana, with regard to the duties of the Uposatha days. Now on this occasion the Teacher, expressing approval of certain lay folk who kept the Uposatha days, said: “Wise men of old, giving up the great glory of the Nāga world, observed the Uposatha days,” and at their request he related a story of the past.
In the past a king of Magadha ruled in Rājagaha. At that time the Bodhisatta was born as the son of this king’s chief consort, and they gave him the name of Duyyodhana. On coming of age he acquired the liberal arts at Taxila and returned home to see his father. And his father installed him in the kingdom
Thrice a day the Bodhisatta came to visit his father who thereby received great profit and honour. Owing to this hindrance he failed to focus on the Meditation Object and he thought: “I am receiving great profit and honour: so long as I live here, it will be impossible for me to destroy this lust of mine. Without saying a word to my son, I will depart elsewhere.”
So not telling a creature he left the park and passing beyond the borders of the realm of Magadha he built himself a hut of leaves in the Mahiṁsaka kingdom, near Mount Candaka, in a bend of the river Kaṇṇapeṇṇā, where it issues out of the lake Saṅkhapāla. There he took up his abode and focusing on the Meditation Object he developed the Absorptions and Super Knowledges and subsisted on whatever he could pick up. A king of the Nāgas, Saṅkhapāla by name, issuing forth from the Kaṇṇapeṇṇā river with a numerous company of Nāgas from time to time would visit the ascetic, and
Now the son was anxious to see his father and being ignorant as to where he had gone, he set on foot an inquiry, and on finding out that he was dwelling in such and such a place he repaired there with a large retinue to see him. Having halted a short distance off, accompanied by a few courtiers he set out in the direction of the hermitage. At this moment Saṅkhapāla with a large following sat listening to the Dhamma, but on seeing the king approaching he rose up and with a salutation to the sage he took his departure.
The king saluted his father and after the usual courtesies had been exchanged he inquired, saying: “Venerable sir, what king is this that has been to see you?” “Dear son, he is Saṅkhapāla, the Nāga king.” The son by reason of the great magnificence of the Nāga conceived a longing for the Nāga world. Staying there a few days he furnished his father with a constant supply of food, and then returned to his own city. There he had an alms-hall erected at the four city gates, and by his alms-giving he made a stir throughout all Jambudīpa, and in aspiring to the Nāga world he ever kept the moral law and observed the duty of the Uposatha days, and at the end of his life he was reborn in the Nāga world as king Saṅkhapāla.
In course of time he grew sick of this magnificence and from that day desiring to be born as a man he kept the Uposatha days, but dwelling as he did in the Nāga world his observance of them was not a success and he deteriorated in morals. From that day he left the Nāga world and not far from the river Kaṇṇapeṇṇā, coiled round an ant-hill between the high road and a narrow path, he there resolved to keep the holy day and took upon himself the moral law. And saying: “Let those that want my skin or want my skin and flesh, let them, I say, take it all,” and thus sacrificing himself by way of generosity he lay on the top of the ant-hill and, stopping there on the fourteenth and fifteenth of the half-month, on the first day of each fortnight he returned to the Nāga world.
So one day when he lay there, having taken upon himself the obligation of the moral law, a party of sixteen men who lived in a neighbouring village, being minded to eat flesh, roamed about in the forest with weapons in their hands and when they returned without finding anything, they saw him lying on the ant-hill and thinking: “Today we have not caught so much as a young lizard, we will kill and eat this snake king,” but fearing that on account of his great size, even if they caught him, he would escape from them, they thought they would pierce him with stakes just as he lay there coiled up, and after thus disabling him, effect his capture. So taking stakes in their hands they drew near to him. And the Bodhisatta caused his body to become as big as a trough-shaped canoe, and looked very beautiful, like a jasmine wreath deposited on the ground, with eyes like the fruit of the guñjā shrub and a head like a jayasumana Pentapetes Phoenicea [the so-called Noon flower, as it opens its flowers around that time.]
Then coming up to him they seized him by the tail and dragged him along the ground. Again dropping him they wounded him in eight different places with sharp stakes and thrusting black bamboo sticks, thorns and all, into his open wounds, so proceeded on their way, carrying him with them by means of strings in the eight several places. The Great Being from the moment of his being wounded by the stakes never once opened his eyes nor regarded the men with anger, but as he was being dragged along by means of the eight sticks his head hung down and struck the ground. So when they found that his head was drooping, they laid him down on the high road and piercing his nostrils with a slender stake they held up his head and inserted a cord, and after fastening it at the end they once more raised his head and set out on their way.
At this moment a landowner named Aḷāra, who dwelt in the city of Mithila in the kingdom of Videha, seated in a comfortable carriage was journeying with five hundred wagons, and seeing these lewd fellows on their way with the Bodhisatta, he gave all sixteen of them, together with an ox apiece, a handful of golden coins to each, and to all of them outer and inner garments, and to their wives ornaments to wear, and so got them to release him. The Bodhisatta returned to the Nāga palace and without any delay, issuing forth with a great retinue, he approached Aḷāra, and after singing the praises of the Nāga palace he took him with him and returned there. Then he bestowed great honour on him together with three hundred Nāga maidens and satisfied him with heavenly delights.
Aḷāra dwelt a whole year in the Nāga palace in the enjoyment of heavenly pleasures, and then saying to the Nāga king, “My friend, I wish to become an ascetic,” and taking with him everything requisite for the ascetic life he left the abode of the Nāgas for the Himālayas region and taking ordination dwelt there for a long time. By and by he went on a pilgrimage and came to Benares where he lived in the king’s park. Next day he entered the city for alms and made his way to the door of the king’s house. The king of Benares on seeing him was so charmed with his behaviour that he called him to his presence, seated him on a special seat assigned to him and served him with a variety of dainty food.
1. “Of comely presence and of gracious mien,
A scion you of noble rank, I ween;
Why then renounce earth’s joys and worldly gear
To adopt the ascetic’s robe and rule severe?”
In what follows the connection of the verses is to be understood in the way of alternate speeches by the ascetic and the king.
2. “O lord of men, I well remembering
The abode of that almighty Nāga king,
Saw the rich fruit that springs from holiness,
And straight believing donned monastic dress.”
3. “Nor fear nor lust nor hate itself may make
A holy man the words of truth forsake:
Tell me the thing that I am fain to know,
And faith and peace within my heart will grow.”
4. “O king, on trading venture was I bound.
When these lewd wretches in my path were found,
A full-grown snake in captive chains was led,
And home in triumph joyously they sped.
5. As I came up with them, O king, I cried,
– Amazed I was and greatly terrified –
‘Where are you dragging, sirs, this monster grim,
And what, lewd fellows, will you do with him?’
6. ‘This full-grown snake that you see fettered thus
With its huge frame will furnish food to us.
Than this, Aḷāra, you could hardly wish
To taste a better or more savoury dish.
7. Hence to our home we’ll fly and in a trice
Each with his knife cut off a dainty slice
And gladly eat his flesh, for, as you know,
Snakes ever find in us a deadly foe.’
8. ‘If this huge snake, late captured in the wood,
Is being dragged along to serve as food,
To each an ox I offer, one apiece,
Should you this serpent from his chains release.’
9. ‘Beef has for us a pleasant sound, I vow,
On snake’s flesh we have fed full oft ere now,
Your bidding, O Aḷāra, we will do;
Henceforth let friendship reign betwixt us two.’
10. Then they released him from the cord that passed
Right through his nose and knotted held him fast,
The Nāga king set free from durance vile
Turned him towards the east, then paused awhile,
11. And facing still the east, prepared to fly,
Looked back upon me with a tearful eye,
While I pursuing him upon his way
Stretched forth clasped hands, as one about to pray.
12. ‘Speed you, my friend, like one in haste that goes,
Lest once again you fall amongst your foes,
Of such like ruffians shun the very sight,
Or you may suffer to thine own despite.’
13. Then to a charming limpid pool he sped
– Canes and rose apples both its banks o’erspread –
Right glad at heart, no further fear he knew,
But plunged in azure depths was lost to view.
14. No sooner vanished had the snake, than he
Revealed full clearly his divinity,
In kindly acts he played a filial part,
And with his grateful speeches touched my heart.
15. You dearer than my parents did restore
My life, true friend e’en to your inmost core,
Through you my former bliss has been regained,
Then come, Aḷāra, see where once I reigned,
A dwelling stored with food, like Sakka’s town
Masakkasāra, place of high renown.”
The Nāga king, sire, after he had spoken these words, still further singing the praises of his dwelling place, repeated a couple of verses:
16. “What charming spots in my domain are seen,
Soft to the tread and clothed in evergreen!
Nor dust nor gravel in our path we find,
And there do happy souls leave grief behind.
17. ’Midst level courts that sapphire walls surround
Fair mango groves on every side abound,
Whereon ripe clusters of rich fruit appear
Through all the changing seasons of the year.
18. Amidst these groves a fabric wrought of gold
And fixed with silver bolts you may behold,
A dwelling bright in splendour, to outvie
The lightning flash that gleams across the sky.
19. Fashioned with gems and gold, divinely fair,
And decked with paintings manifold and rare,
’Tis thronged with nymphs magnificently dressed,
All wearing golden chains upon their breast.
20. Then in hot haste did Saṅkhapāla climb
The terraced height, on which in power sublime
Uplifted on a thousand piers was seen
The palace of his wedded wife and queen.
21. Quickly anon one of that maiden band
Bearing a precious jewel in her hand,
A turquoise rare with magic power replete,
And all unbidden offered me a seat.
22. The snake then grasped my arm and led me where
There stood a noble and right royal chair,
‘Pray, let your honour sit here by my side,
As parent dear to me are you,’ he cried.
23. A second nymph then quick at his command
Came with a bowl of water in her hand,
And bathed my feet, kind service tendering
As did the queen for her dear lord the king.
24. Then yet another maiden in a trice
Served in a golden dish some curried rice,
Flavoured with many a sauce, that haply might
With dainty cravings tempt the appetite.
25. With strains of music then – for such they knew
Was their lord’s wish – they fain were to subdue
My will, nor did the king himself e’er fail
My soul with heavenly longings to assail.”
Drawing nigh to me he thus repeated another verse:
26. “Three hundred wives, Aḷāra, here have I,
Slim-waisted all, in beauty they outvie
The lotus flower. Behold, they only live
To do your will: accept the boon I give.”
27. “One year with heavenly pleasures was I blessed
When to the king this question I addressed,
‘How, Nāga, is this palace fair your home,
And how to be your portion did it come?
28. Was this fair place by accident attained,
Wrought by thyself, or gift from Devas gained?
I ask you, Nāga king, the truth to tell,
How did you come in this fair place to dwell?’ ”
Then followed verses uttered by the two The two interlocutors are the Nāga king and Aḷāra. alternately
29. “ ’Twas by no chance or natural law attained,
Not wrought by me, no boon from Devas gained;
But to my own good actions, you must know,
And to my merits these fair halls I owe.”
30. “What holy vow, what life so chaste and pure
What store of merit could such bliss secure?
Tell me, O Nāga king, for I am fain
To know how this fair mansion you could gain.”
31. “I once was king of Magadha, my name
Duyyodhana, a prince of mighty fame:
I held my life as vile and insecure,
Without all power in ripeness to mature.
32. I meat and drink religiously supplied,
And alms bestowed on all, both far and wide,
My house was like an inn, where all that came,
Sages and saints, refreshed their weary frame.
33. Bound by such vows, such was the life I passed,
And such the store of merit I amassed,
Whereby this mansion was at length attained,
And food and drink in ample measure gained.”
34. “This life, however bright for many a day
With dance and song, yet lasted not for aye,
Weak creatures harry you for all your might
And feeble beings put the strong to flight.
Why, armed to the teeth in such unequal fray,
To those vile beggars should you fall a prey?
35. By what o’ermastering dread were you undone?
Where had the virus of your poison gone?
Why, armed to the teeth and powerful as you were,
From such poor creatures did you suffer hurt?”
36. “By no o’ermastering dread was I undone,
Nor could my powers be crushed by any one.
The worth of goodness is by all confessed;
Its bounds, like the sea shore, are ne’er transgressed.
37. Two times each moon I kept a holy day;
’Twas then, Aḷāra, that there crossed my way
Twice eight lewd fellows, bearing in their hand
A rope and knotted noose of finest strand.
38. The ruffians pierced my nose, and through the slit
Passing the cord, dragged me along by it.
Such pain I had to bear – ah! cruel fate –
For holding holy days inviolate.”
39. “Seeing in that lone path, stretched at full length,
A thing of beauty and enormous strength,
Why, wise and glorious one, I cried, do you
Take on thyself this strict ascetic vow?”
40. “Neither for child nor wealth is my desire
Nor yet to length of days do I aspire;
But ’midst the world of men I fain would live,
And to this end heroically strive.”
41. “With hair and beard well-trimmed, your sturdy frame
Adorned with gorgeous robes, an eye of flame,
Bathed in red sandal oil you seem to shine
Afar, e’en as some minstrel king divine.
42. With heavenly gifts miraculously blessed
And of whate’er your heart may crave possessed,
I ask you, Nāga king, the truth to tell,
Why do you in man’s world prefer to dwell?”
43. “Nowhere but in the world of men, I ween,
May purity and self-restraint be seen:
If only once ’midst men I draw my breath,
I’ll put an end to further birth and death.”
44. “Ever supplied with bountiful good cheer,
With you, O king, I’ve sojourned for a year,
Now must I say farewell and flee away,
Absent from home no longer can I stay.”
45. “My wife and children and our menial band
Are ever trained to wait at your command:
No one, I trust, has offered you a slight
For dear are you, Aḷāra, to my sight.”
46. “Kind parents’ presence fills a home with joy,
Yet more than they some fondly cherished boy:
But greatest bliss of all have I found here,
For you, O king, have ever held me dear.”
47. “I have a jewel rare with blood-red spot,
That brings great wealth to such as have it not.
Take it and go to thine own home, and when
You have grown rich, pray, send it back again.”
Aḷāra, having spoken these words proceeded as follows, “Then, O sire, I addressed the Nāga king and said: “I have no need of riches, sir, but I am anxious to ordain,”
48. “Desires of man are transient, nor can they
The higher law of ripening change obey:
Seeing what woes from sinful passion spring,
Faith led me on to be ordained, O king.
49. Men fall like fruit, to perish straight away,
All bodies, young and old alike, decay:
In holy orders only find I rest,
The true apaṇṇaka, cf. vol. i. p. 95, Apaṇṇakajātaka. and universal is the best.”
On hearing this the king repeated another verse:
50. “The wise and learned, such as meditate
On mighty themes, we all should cultivate;
Hearkening, Aḷāra, to Nāga and you,
Lo! I perform all deeds of piety.”
Then the ascetic, putting forth his strength, uttered a concluding verse:
51. “The wise and learned, such as meditate
On mighty themes, we all should cultivate:
Hearkening, O monarch, to Nāga and me,
Do you perform all deeds of piety.”
Thus did he give the king Dhamma instruction, and after dwelling in the same spot four months of the rainy season he again returned to the Himālayas, and as long as he lived, cultivated the four Divine Abidings till he passed to the Brahmā Realm, and Saṅkhapāla, so long as he lived, observed the Uposatha days, and the king, after a life spent in generosity and other good works, fared according to his deeds.
The Teacher at the end of this discourse identified the Jātaka, “At that time the father who became an ascetic was Kassapa, the king of Benares was Ānanda, Aḷāra was Sāriputta and Saṅkhapāla was myself.”
last updated: November 2021